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What utilities can glean from classic comics to pen a better future (spoiler alert)

Wonder Woman saved Steve Trevor (and at least one war). The Avengers saved New York—at least the parts they didn’t flatten. (Recently, they tried to save the world, but we won’t talk about that sad story today.) Green Lantern saved the universe once, and Dr. Strange tried to save multiple timeline versions of the universe to the point of exhaustion.

Being a superhero seemed fun as a kid. As an adult we know the truth: Being a superhero is time-consuming hard work that you don’t get paid for.

So, be glad you’re not one.

Still, you can learn from all those evil-scientist overturns and big, bad brouhahas without having to find the energy to wade into the whole canon of it all (as in the literary variety). Instead, let us tell you the three lessons you can glean from the comics universe(s) to pen yourself—and your water, electricity or natural gas utility—a better future right here in the real world.

1. Sometimes might ain’t right.

Sure, there’s Thor and Thing, there’s Hulk and She-Hulk (yes, really), there’s Wolverine and Wonder Man (yes, really). And, we’re not going to insult your intelligence and tell you a lie. It’s true that sometimes the happiest ending comes after a big ol’ battle with a big ol’ problem, and, yes, whacking hard at that big ol’ problem can be almost as satisfying as solving it.

But then there’s Ant-man, who has found the brilliance of being able to get inside (albeit more literally than we’re talking about here) the problem. Big battles create big bits of destruction. (We’re looking at you, Avengers.) Being able to size your might to the fight can save you lots of headaches. For the average dude-in-distress from a comic, those headaches may be loss of life or limb or pocketbook. For the average utility, those headaches come more in the form of regulatory negotiations, investment costs and manpower.

So, the lesson here is really all about scale—because bigger isn’t always better.

Sometimes, it’s overkill.

2. Keep an ear to the ground.

Granted, Aquaman had a telepathy angle which made it less ear-to-the-ground and more mind-to-the-swell, but he was listening—deep listening. He still knew what was going down in his fishy underwater world almost instantly. Then there’s Beast Boy (a character I still think Manimal ripped off royally for his ‘80s TV show); he could change into any animal, some with super enhanced hearing.

I’ll pause here a second while 86% of you pop up a new browser window to Google “Manimal.”

Another fave in this hearing heroine category: Banshee. Granted, you hear most about the screaming, but there was that extra tidbit of super sound gathering, too.

The point: No one had to call these people twice—on the phone or otherwise. They didn’t need to be asked again. They didn’t need to have the whole story retold to another superhero a fourth or fifth or twentieth time.

They heard the first time, no matter how faint the “help me” cry.

Now, it’s hard to do that in the real world without the benefit of super powers, but the joy is, we’ve got some of those “superpowers” already these days: sensors to spy problems, spots to store data that also allow for real-time analytics, systems that talk to each other so that nothing is lost in a long game of problematic tech “telephone.”

Today, whether that “help me” goes through your CSR or comes from a distant sensor, you want to hear the whole story at first shout, because the world is going to move faster and faster, with time for repeats reserved only for Marvel movie sequels, not ongoing infrastructure issues.

3. The best hero is a self-made hero.

Superman came to this planet with his powers intact, but, fortunately for the comic book Earth, had decent adoptive parents to help him develop enough integrity to keep his ego/id in check, cuz he could squash all of us like tiny bugs if he wanted to. (And we all know he sometimes secretly wants to.) Spiderman got his powers entirely by accident—the best side effects of an arachnid bite in the history of anything (as anyone ever bit by a widow or a recluse can attest).  

But then there’s Batman, the original self-made superhero. (Iron Man came along later, thank you.) Batman’s just an ordinary guy underneath—granted, an ordinary guy with millions and all, but no internal x-ray vision or inside super strength. His powers are motivated by a whole lot of good tech thinking. Basically, Batman is the R&D fan's superhero, the one any of us could be given the right tech team.

And, these days, every utility needs the right tech team.

The perfect people to push this industry into the future know data and the cloud—and how those data details intersect with every utility’s thinking on resilience, DER, customer service, demand response, sensor-heavy grid networks and even more compatible smart city components.

Inside every utility today are a whole lot of Batmans, basically, with a whole lot of good ideas waiting for the opportunity to build them out and show what they can do.

It’s time to let your inner Batmans come out and join the fight.

 

With that self-made superhero thinking in mind, we sat down and turned our favorite new tech dream, The Cloud, into your next comic book superhero obsession. (The Avengers ain’t got nothing on us.) Read the first issue here.

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